A former United Nations (UN) Secretary General, Mr Kofi Annan, and his wife, Mrs Nane Annan, have paid a day’s visit to the Northern Region to collaborate with stakeholders and hold discussions on positive means of reducing malnutrition and infant mortality.
The couple was also in the region to hold discussions with stakeholders in the health sector, the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA), as well as farmers, on the need to promote the cultivation and consumption of the Orange Fleshed Sweet Potato (OFSP) which has a potential of increasing child nutrition, under the Sweet Potato for Profit and Health Initiative (SPHI).
The SPHI, which was initiated by the couple, is being implemented by the Savanna Agricultural Research Institute under the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR-SARI), with a $US 30,000 funding from the International Potato Centre, under its Jumpstarting Project.
The OFSP was discovered in Peru by scientists some years ago where it was realised that it contained the necessary vitamins and irons to promote the growth and development of children and also build their immune system.
Speaking on an OFSP farm at SARI, Mr Annan said the crop was a potential source of vitamin A and energy which was very essential in protecting the immune system of children against micronutrient deficiencies.
Death from malnutrition
Mr Annan said, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), an estimated 55,000 children in the country die every year before attaining the age of five, as a result of under-nutrition, with the three regions in Northern Ghana recording the highest prevalence rate.
“Children have the right to live to grow as adults, and that is the main reason my wife and I, with support from the International Potato Centre, are bringing about this initiative to help achieve an infant mortality-free nation and to also combat the lingering problems of malnutrition and hunger amongst children,” he said.
He stated further that 500,000 households in the country would benefit through improved nutrition and incomes by the year 2020 as part of the visions of the SPHI.
Mrs Annan, on her part, said the OFSP was also a versatile ingredient in local foods and processed products, as it could be used as a substitute for imported wheat which the country spent millions of cedis in importing from foreign countries.
“The crop also has a potential to contribute to the country’s agricultural growth and income since it is highly productive and can grow in any soil with a harvest season of three to four times a year,” she added.
She said cultivation of the crop would also go a long way to improve nutrition, increase income-earning opportunities for poor households, especially women, since they would be empowered to venture into its production.
The Director at CSIR-SARI, Dr Stephen K. Nutsugah, in an interview, said that the council, over the past 10 years, had assisted farmers in the region with 29 improved varieties of various crops to help increase their yields.
He said the transformation of the livelihood of the people and the reduction of poverty in northern Ghana could be achieved through concerted efforts by all concerned to reverse the low agricultural productivity, which had over the years brought about food insecurity in the area.
In another interview, the Programme Manager at the International Potato Centre, Mr Simon Heck, revealed that their organisation was working together with the government ministries and other research institutions in the country, to help increase production, create an enabling demand for the crop and also to build the capacity and competencies of producers and traders in the sweet potato sector.